In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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Media flunky and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- God knows that my musings about the Web don't deserve to be listened to. But there's one thing about life online that has really taken me by surprise. I wonder if it's hit others the same way. It's that websites that are static seem dead. When I first started paying attention to the Web, I assumed that, despite their links and their accessibility, websites would generally be like books -- locked-down things, if more transparent and sparkly than paper-based mediathings are. And how great to have all these book-like entities out there to explore, eh? On I surfed, scarfing up information. But as I surfed, I started to notice that I was going back to some sites again and again, while many other sites I'd visit once and then never return to. Why was this so? The reason, it finally occurred to me, was simple: something was ongoing at some of the websites, while at the ones I'd seldom revisit nothing was happening. No reason a website shouldn't be a more-or-less static reference source, of course. And thank heavens for the zillions of good ones out there. But thank heavens as well for the websites that are what I now think of as "Event Websites." A website seems alive when something's going on there. The brilliant thing about blogs is that the technology makes maintaining an Event Website easy to do. A blog isn't just a bunch of stuff that's been deposited on the Web. It's ongoing commentary; it's performance art; it's a place where people drop by and hang out. While traditional writing tends to put the writer in the position of someone lecturing an audience, as a blogger I often feel more like a cafe owner or party host. I'm not talking at people; instead, I'm sponsoring a conversation. (A much more agreeable position to be in, as far as I'm concerned.) A blog is the most existential of all forms of weblife: if a blog isn't updated and monkeyed-around with, no one visits -- which, in blog terms, means death. Another benefit of blog technology is that a blog is so simple to operate that it can be run by people whose primary preoccupation isn't technology. Pre-blog Event Websites were so dependent on techno-expertise that a problem arose: the only people who could maintain Event Websites either 1) had the money to pay a team of webmasters, or 2) had the expertise to maintain a site themselves. Which in practice meant that Event Websites were nearly all either commercial sites or sites devoted to the topic of computer technology. Now, thanks to blogging software, even non-rich non-techies like the Blowhards can sustain a lively web presence. (With only the occasional panicky call to our webhost's Help Desk, or to Daniel, our wonderful blog-guy.) But blogs, however liberating, are also rather odd things. As websites, they're lively but they're also very limited. A blog offers one scrolling page, the means for visitors... posted by Michael at January 29, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Big Art/Short Fiction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you crave long art experiences? I've noticed in recent years that any appetite I once had for Long Art is drying up. Once upon a time, I was curious about epic Philip Glass operas, LaMonte Young drone-fests, Peter Brook cyclical-time experiments, and Syberberg movies that never ended. The stage version of "Nicholas Nickleby"? Made it through both evenings. Or was it three evenings? In my 20s and 30s, I sat through such works barely noticing their length. These days, I start to twitch when a movie gets to be longer than 80 minutes. A play that lasts longer than 100 minutes? I start to harumph: that's asking an awful lot of an audience if you want my opinion, grumble grumble. Novels, for another instance: love 'em, respect 'em, etc. But surely part of the appeal of reading a novel is the experience of losing yourself in a story for evenings (or even weeks) on end. I'm not sure how much I ever craved that kind of immersion. Even in my big-novel reading days, I ran into few long novels that didn't seem like they couldn't have been shorter. Still, my appetite for losing myself forever in a fictional world has definitely grown smaller. If a piece of fiction can't be finished in a couple of evenings max, I'm sorry to say that I probably won't be getting around to it. Entering an author's fictional world for a couple of hours retains its appeal, though. This may help explain why I'm into noir crime fiction; few noir novels run longer than 150 pages. These days, I'm hungry for manageable art -- art that serves, and that respects my comfort and my pleasure. The explanation for this certainly has something to do with physical changes. My eyes aren't as strong as they once were, for example. They tire quickly; they aren't primo equipment for epic bouts of novel-reading. Age also brings experience. I've been through a lot of art-things by now, and I "get" most art a lot faster than I once did. Better put: I get the art I'm going to get a lot faster than I once did. But I'm also quicker to let go of the art I'm not likely to get. No one can browbeat me into thinking that I must, I simply must -- because I owe it to myself! -- sit through anything I don't deepdown have any curiosity about. Life will go on even if I fail to expose myself to some of the Great Works. I'm OK with that in a way I guess I once wasn't. Age confers perspective too, if little else of worth. These days, art seems less compelling than life itself does; and normality looks more beautiful than the extraordinary does. Art subsides in importance a bit. It takes its place as a part of life. A work of art that does its thing and then moves quickly aside is something that's very... posted by Michael at January 27, 2005 | perma-link | (25) comments

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Moviegoing: "The Cooler"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you caught "The Cooler"? I found it sweet and absorbing. Praise the lord: it isn't a flashy electronic-media thing. And, although it was shot in six weeks for very little money, it's full of real acting, real writing, and real filmmaking. It's an experience to sink into, not to be wiped out by. Whether or not you enjoy the film may depend on how well you tolerate several things: the neonoir form; and fairy tales about little people, Lady Luck, and Vegas. I fell for the whole package. William Macy gives his most William Macy performance ever as an uber-loser who's such a sadsack that he's employed by a casino to ruin people's luck. He's The Cooler: all it takes to cool someone's good run is for Macy to walk on by. Maria Bello plays a gorgeous ragamuffin whose hopes have come to naught but whose emotions aren't yet extinct. Alec Baldwin is the scummy oldstyle casino owner whose schemes throw Macy and Bello together. As far as I was concerned, the film isn't in the same class as the best of the semi-recent neonoirs, "The Grifters" and "Croupier." Main reason: an overlong third act, during which the filmmakers run their characters through every possible narrative variation, a few of which struck me as skippable. But I was very happy spending a couple of hours in the film's world. The actors, who let it all hang out in many lovely ways, show a lot of talent, skill, and gusto; the smallscale, bluesy atmosphere is enchanting; and the tough/tender, make-believe tone is pitch perfect. "The Cooler"'s website, where you can watch a trailer, is here. The film is buyable here and Netflixable here. Maria Bello tells Carrie-Anne Moss that she hopes her ass will be a good role model for other women. I hope so too. "The Grifters" can be bought here and Netflixed here; "Croupier" is here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 26, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * One of the first and best of the culturebloggers, Alexandra Ceely has returned from what was looking like a permanent retirement. Alexandra has been busy with a lot of things, it seems, including some impressive quilting. Sad but true: blogging sometimes has to take a second place to other concerns, as I've been discovering over the last few weeks. * Do you remember Robert Fulghum? Author of the zillion-selling "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" and several other bestsellers? Fulghum recently completed an innovative, one-of-a-kind new novel. Why hasn't it been published in America? Gerard Van der Leun's posting tells the fascinating story. Gerard, who has worked in trade-book publishing, is even more caustic about the business than I am. * As Tivo and DVR users skip over TV ads, television-industry types are trying to figure out new ways to generate income. TV watchers: brace yourselves for product-placements galore. * Tivo for radio, anyone? * Do you think you might make a good scientist? Does the life of a physics prof appeal? It'll be worth your while to check out this Derek Lowe posting, which should interest even those who are merely interested in what the science-y fields are like. * GNXP's David Boxenhorn muses about the very popular Myers-Briggs personality test. David's an INTP. Me, I seem to be an exception to whatever rule it is that the Myers-Briggs wants to prove. Some days I'm Extraverted Mr. Party-Hearty, while other days all I want from life is to hang Introvertedly with The Wife. So do I put myself down as an "E" or an "I"? I wonder if an M-for-Miscellaneous category needs to be created to account for will-of-the-wisps such as I. * Looking over Steve Sailer's ten-best movies of 2004 list, I was amused to realize that the only picture on it that I've seen is "The Battle of Algiers," a film that was originally released in 1965. I guess I'm officially a Former Film Buff now. * Steve's analysis of who-voted-for-whom in the recent elections is an eye-opener. Of course, it was a crowd of bigots, homophobes, and snake-handlers who put Bush back in office, no? The Washington Post's avowedly left-ish David Von Drehle gathers his courage together, and dares to take a drive through Red America. I found Von Drehle's reactions to life among the Bush voters refreshingly open-eyed. * The Fredosphere supplies lots of first-hand info about Michigan's beautiful Traverse City and Leelanau Peninsula. * "Dear Mummy and Daddy -- I'm having such a great time in college! And thanks so much for giving me a digital camera for my birthday!" * Although copyright in America is good for approximately seventeen centuries, in much of Europe it lasts for only 50 years. Which means that, in Europe, many early pop-music songs are beginning to enter the public domain. This year: early Elvis. In a decade or so: The Beatles and the Stones. * Mike... posted by Michael at January 26, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments